How to Become a Volvo Ocean Race Sailor: Bleddyn Mon
Since 1973, the Volvo Ocean Race, one of the toughest sporting challenges in the world, has attracted the world’s best sailors. Every edition sees these sailors put through their paces in some of the most extreme environments known to man. But how do you become one of the select few tasked with taking on the Volvo Ocean Race? British Sailor Bleddyn Mon, from Turn the Tide on Plastic, explains.
When did your love of sailing begin and how?
I started sailing at the age of 5 or 6 with my parents and brothers in a GP14 from a local beach on Anglesey where we lived. At the time, I was definitely more interested in playing on the beach, building sand castles and eating ice cream than sailing.
We then joined the local sailing club at Traeth Bychan (Red Wharf Bay Sailing Club) where there was a small fleet of Mirrors initially, and then Toppers as the sailors progressed. This was my first experience of racing and with lots of children of a similar age to my brothers - there was a great vibe. From here, things quickly escalated and I followed in my brother’s footsteps sailing Mirrors and then Toppers at a club and then National level.
At what point did sailing develop from a hobby into a career for you?
From a young age I remember saying to my parents that I wanted to be a “professional sailor” and that I had my sights set on the Olympics. However, they did a very good job of keeping me grounded, which ensured I always had a backup. As a result, I studied Mechanical Engineering at Southampton University after finishing my A-Levels, as opposed to going sailing full time.
It was two years into my degree that I had my first taste of professional sailing. I was asked to join Leigh McMillan and The Wave Muscat team in the Extreme Sailing Series midway through the 2012 season as an under 25 sailor, which was a requirement of the rule. At the time I was jumping between sailing 470s and 49ers, so this was a great opening into professional sailing and also multi-hull sailing.
This experience proved very valuable a few years later when Ben Ainslie launched his team for the America’s Cup and an entry to the Extreme Sailing Series. After sailing with the team in the Extreme 40 in the 2014 season and finishing my degree the following summer I joined BAR full time for the AC35 campaign as part of both the sailing and design team.
Explain your pathway to the Volvo Ocean Race. Is this very different from your crewmates?
I guess my pathway to the Volvo Ocean Race is very unusual, however a similar story could be said for most of our team. In summary:
- Four months before the start I had never been offshore.
- My first offshore race was two months before the start.
- My longest time offshore before the start was four days.
The learning curve was very steep, both on the sailing side - learning a new boat with a new team - but also in terms of managing myself and my kit on board.
However, I had a lot of experience in a variety of dinghies and small keelboats and was fresh from the cup, so was keen to learn and take on a new challenge.
What was the greatest challenge you faced in becoming a Volvo Ocean Race sailor?
I think the greatest challenge I have faced so far has been adapting to spending such a large amount of time on a boat! Most people ease into offshore racing. For me the first leg of the 2017/18 race was my longest offshore race at the time (6 days), I then had the second leg off which meant I would be straight from Mediterranean racing to Southern Ocean racing from Cape Town to Melbourne. This was a relentless and physically tough leg, so I had no choice but to adapt and learn fast.
What advice would you give to young sailors who aspire to participate in the Volvo Ocean Race?
- Gain as much experience as possible in a variety of classes and roles
- Develop secondary skills (e.g. rigging, electronics, hydraulics, sail making etc.) which are essential to keep the boat running and to fix any issues when offshore
What more can be done to continue bringing young talent into the Volvo Ocean Race?
I think the existing under 30 rule is a great way of ensuring young talent is given the opportunity to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race whilst also making sure there is sufficient experience on board. However, given the large pool of under 30 Volvo sailors that now exist (28 have competed so far in this edition), perhaps there could be a full under 30 team soon.
At only 25, you have already competed in one of the toughest sporting challenges in the world. Where to from here?
At the moment we are not even halfway through this race, so for now, I am focusing on learning as much as possible so that as a team we can continue to improve. There is a long way to go and as we have shown in the last leg (leg 4), we are in a position now where we are able to challenge the more established teams.
Once the race is over, I will have competed in the Volvo Ocean Race and the America’s Cup. The next thing to do is to try and win!
How does one apply to be a sailor on a Volvo Ocean Race? Are there certain conditions that have to be met?
As with most sailing teams, there is no application process as such to be a Volvo Ocean Race sailor. Instead, sailors are usually recommended or approached because of the experience and skills they could bring to a team. In most cases, there is then a trials process before the final team is selected.
There are, however, certain criteria that each team needs to meet in terms of the ratio of male to female, and for there to be at least two under 30s on board.
Also, this edition of the race has also required all sailors to have Offshore Yacht Master qualifications and two sailors to have Ocean Yacht Masters qualifications.